It’s Never Too Late to Switch to MSE!

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang standing with undergraduate Gina Parlato after the latter received the 2022 undergraduate outstanding research award.

Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang standing with undergraduate Gina Parlato after the latter received the 2022 undergraduate outstanding research award.

Sometimes you don’t know which major is perfect for you until a bit later in the game, as was true with undergraduate student Gina Parlato.
Originally a mechanical engineering major, Gina had no idea the materials science and engineering (mse) major existed. “I found out about it through an upperclassman I knew who was in mse. She told me all about the program and what materials science engineering was. After that, I was so interested in it that I changed my major the next semester.”
Switching majors actually put Gina off-track to graduate, which makes this her fifth year at UConn. “I took whatever courses I could over the summer and winter semesters to catch up and put in a lot of hard work. However, I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve loved my time at UConn and I’m so glad I found mse, because I really love it.”
Gina says that Professor Fiona Leek has impacted her the most. “She is always available to answer any questions I have and she’s always advocating for her students. Every class I’ve had with her was one that I looked forward to going to.”
In regards to her favorite area of mse, Gina is most interested in polymers. She was actually able to do some research with Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang. “We worked with liquid crystal elastomers, a smart and soft material, to make soft robots with reversible shape and color changing capabilities.”
Professor Wang thinks very highly of Gina. “Gina is the best undergraduate research assistant I have had so far. She performed extremely well and co-authored two journal papers during just one summer in my group. In recognition of her research excellence, she received the 2022 undergraduate outstanding research award.”
When asked her thoughts on the new laboratories in the Science 1 building, Gina says that they’re amazing. “I’m grateful that I get the chance to use such a nice facility.”
Not only is Gina stellar in the academics department, but she’s also part of the women’s hockey club. “Hockey is something I’ve balanced with school for as long as I can remember. We only practice twice a week and have 1-2 games per weekend, which is a lot less than how much I practiced in high school. Deciding to play in college was an easy choice for me, because it’s the perfect break from schoolwork and I already knew I could manage my time.”
Additionally, Gina has interned at EssilorLuxottica, a company that designs, produces and markets optical equipment, prescription glasses and sunglasses. “The internship offered me a lot of hands-on opportunities in the lab to learn how to use new machines and techniques. They wanted me to learn as much as I could and provided me with every opportunity to do that.”
Gina describes the company’s culture as nice and friendly, and says that all the employees love working there. “They would regularly plan company outings. They also care a lot about their employees and have a nurse on staff daily in case of any emergencies.”
Gina’s day-to-day responsibilities involved running experiments under the supervision of some of the company’s senior engineers. “There were some devices and machines I had never used before, so it was a bit of a learning curve getting comfortable using those. However, the senior engineers were always more than willing to answer any of my questions.”
When asked what advice she’d give to other students looking to succeed as an intern, Gina says, “You get out what you put in and every opportunity will teach you something. Try to learn as much as you can, because even if you hate the internship you can still learn about what you want from a job in the future. You’ll learn something no matter what, as long as you put the effort in.”
When asked about her future, Gina answers, “Ideally, I would like to work with polymers in either the biomedical or aerospace fields. UConn MSE has given me a good understanding of materials science and provided me with ample opportunities to get hands-on experience in the lab.” Gina will be graduating in May 2023.

Published: April 12, 2023

Categories: internship, news, undergraduate laboratories, undergraduate students

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